A Wild, Winter Voyage around the Hebrides is captured in wind-blown, salt-sprayed seascapes by Ross Ryan: “Batten down the Hatches” at the Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh.
Shannon, Fastnet, Rockall, Malin, Bailey, Fairisle. …: the solemn, somnolent reading of the Shipping Forecast broadcast each night on BBC Radio 4, may sound like a poetic lullaby if safely at home, but an essential warning of impending gales for seafaring folk.
The map of the Shipping Forecast is the starting point of Ross Ryan’s The Logbook (Vol 2) which charts his recent intrepid expedition on board MV Sgarbh, a vintage, 40-foot, wooden fishing boat.
As both an artist and yachtmaster, in 2017 Ryan set off from Crinan on a solo painting trip, the result of which was an exhibition, “The Logbook, A Solo Winter Voyage” at the Scottish Gallery in May 2018.
Inspired by this challenging experience, Ryan set off again on MV Sgarbh to explore Mull, Barra, Tiree, Islay and Jura over the recent winter season on his travelling Studio to compile an exhilarating range of work entitled “Batten down the Hatches.”
“This new collection of paintings is from two years of chasing gales, sailing to offshore lighthouses and discovering the people and their islands. As the world has also temporarily battened down the hatches, I hope this exhibition is a reminder of the beautiful seascapes of the West Coast that await for us”. Ross Ryan, 2020
For over 150 years, Robert Stevenson, his sons and grandsons, built the lighthouses around Scotland’s coastline from Bell Rock to Vaternish. Designed by Thomas Stevenson, Dubh Artach Lighthouse (completed 1872), stands on a basalt rock 18 miles west of Colonsay and 15 miles South West of Iona.
From The Logbook (Vol 2 ), Ross Ryan
“With the swell rolling us excessively, anchoring was out the question, as was making a landing. Soon it became apparent the only way to keep her steady was to steam slowly into the swell. The painting got a drenching as we passed through the Corryvrekan whirlpool. What was lost in paint was gained in an authenticating layer of salt. “
This misty, murky image – oil and pastel on board – perfectly illustrates the remote location of this majestic monument rising from the rough, rolling Atlantic. The shimmering clouds and frothing waves is most atmospheric and certainly authentic: you can almost feel the chilling, salt-sea spray engrained in the oil paint.
Dubh Artach translates as black rock, or indeed, black death due to the numerous ships wrecked on the fearsome Torran Reef. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about a memorable boat trip to see his father’s great construction which saved so many souls.
“A certain black rock stood environed by the Atlantic rollers, the outpost of the Torran reefs. Here was a tower, star lighted for the conduct of seamen. No other life was there but that of seabirds and of the sea itself …that .. growled … roared and spouted on the rock. “Memories of an Islet” RLS (1887)
A poetic description of the same scene recently observed by Ross Ryan for this semi- abstract sketch, First Flash, Dubh Artach: a dot of a star clearly shines on the horizon with a peachy glow of a dying sun below a threatening sky. With crafted layers and shades of pastel on paper, this is a stunning composition.
Scotland’s tallest lighthouse is Skerryvore, (Alan Stevenson,1844) on a treacherous reef of rocks, 11 miles from Tiree.
The bold, brash brushstrokes sweep a swirl of billowing cloud over the choppy sea, a place blessed with a mild sunny climate but strong gales, perfect for windsurfing.
This has an exquisite Turner-esque quality focusing on the same maritime motif – the wave. Here is the visible power of churning, crashing waves in luminous detail.
While the pioneering Impressionist artists painted “en plein air” to embrace the landscape up close and personal, Ross Ryan immerses himself even more in the heart of the action. The idyllic wee island of Vatersay is the most southerly in the Outer Hebrides, renowned for its sublime beaches and unspoilt natural habitat. Braving the weather, the simple black splashes of rain clouds are so realistic.
From The Logbook (Vol 2) Ross Ryan
“During the winter I painted from the shore, recording the sea in all her anger. Here is a force that could move a beach overnight and flick rocks like unwanted peas.”
On the North East coastline, Joan Eardley was also mesmerised by the vast sea and sky, setting up her easel on the beach at Catterline to express the energy and beauty of a ferocious storm.
On this voyage, Ryan followed in the wake of the Scottish Colourists to the island of Iona. Cadell first visited Iona in 1912 and then together with Peploe, this became their annual summer pilgrimage.
With a warm colour palette, these scenes portray the pure white sand, lapping waves and soft light of this timeless spiritual place.
There is the distinctive classic artistic style of the Colourists here in The Sound of Iona, with sculptured shapes and tonal light in a precise pattern.
Islay, “Queen of the Hebrides,” is renowned for its distinctive smoky-peat whisky and Lagavulin Distillery is located on the edge of a bay in the south of the island. An imaginative flurry of haphazard scratch marks denote the cloud-spattered sky on this grey day.
Time for a dram. Lagavulin 16 year old malt is described as ‘Lapsang Souchong tea, pipe tobacco, fishboxes, kippers and hint of kelp but always sweet’.
Sending a “Message in a Bottle” is an ancient tradition. Ryan’s own project has taken him on a magical mystery tour to Tiree and Coll to paint the spot where his bottles washed ashore and meet the treasure hunters.
With delicate detail and fine perspective, the calm tranquility of Red Rock Beach.
By enduring the harshest of environments, Ross Ryan’s collection of artwork, photographs and Logbook creates such a vividly illustrated narrative of his seafaring adventures.
“Batten down the Hatches” is a most timely subject – 2020 is the “Year of Coasts & Waters” by Visit Scotland. Take a virtual island-hopping voyage around the Hebrides at the Scottish Gallery and be inspired.
The Scottish Gallery
‘Batten down the Hatches’ – 29 April to 30 May, 2020
View the exhibition on line:
For further information on images, film footage, Ross Ryan’s travel blog and Logbook Catalogue, please contact the gallery by email:
While the gallery is closed, a selected painting from this exhibition is placed on an easel, changed by request, to view through the window.
The May exhibition also includes “My Border Landscapes” by Sir William Gillies and a tribute to the jewellery maker, Wendy Ramshaw.